James McPherson and Ed Bearss on the Eve of Antietam’s 150th

by Scott Manning on September 25, 2012

While I had read works by both James McPherson and Ed Bears, I finally got an opportunity to hear and meet them in person. On the eve of the sesquicentennial of Antietam, McPherson gave a speech on the importance of the battle, stressing that it was a “titanic conflict” and “the most important turning point of the war.” His talk focused on why.

James McPherson

He traced the morale of the North and South, as well as foreign perspective on the war from the spring of 1862 through the week after Antietam. Using editorials, letters, and journals, he demonstrated that before Jackson’s campaign in the Shenandoah (spring) and Lee’s success during the Seven Days Battles (June 25 – July 1), Southern morale was disparate while Northern morale was high. There was an ebb and flow of Northern and Southern morale, but after Lee’s victory at Second Manassas (August 28-30), Southern morale was at its highest, and Northern morale was at its lowest. In addition, the potential for foreign intervention, especially from France and Britain, seemed most likely. Yet, after Antietam, everything changed. Shortly afterward, Lincoln announced the Emancipation.

Ed Bearss started his speech about the Centennial at Antietam, but he quickly moved to focusing on Lee’s role in the Maryland campaign. Bearss had some stinging words for McClellan, as he criticized the Union general at every mention of his name. Conversely, he gave high praise for Lee’s performance. The speech is a perfect example of some of Dimitri’s recent lessons from the battle.

Afterward, the two answered questions from the audience. One audience member noticed that McPherson focused on the shift of Northern morale and foreign perspective after Antietam, but made no mention of Southern morale. McPherson stated that the Southern morale remained strong, especially with Stonewall’s capture of Harpers Ferry and some 12,000-plus Federal troops several days before Antietam. To them, the campaign was not an entire failure.

You can see the two speaking on C-Span’s website, which contains over 8 hours of material from the sesquicentennial of the battle, starting at the 7:06:00 mark.

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